The Eye of the Fish

April 3, 2018

Architecture Library

Although this is a Wellington-focused blog, there are some matters in Architecture that go further afield than our small corner of the world, and sometimes we venture forth. One of these, looked at today, is the Auckland Architecture School Library and Archive, an integral part of the Arch School at University of Auckland. It is, it has to be said, the best architecture Library in the country – perhaps even in the entire southern hemisphere – with the rest of the School effectively built around it. It occupies a central position on the School campus, and is a focus of the actual Studio buildings that surround it, and it provides a backdrop to Architecture before the School of Engineering starts next door. A wide, pleasant pathway encircles it to the south, providing a link between Architecture and the Engineers.
Of course, it is not the outside that matters, but the inside and what it contains, and here it excels. Inside a lofty double-height space beside the Design Theatre there is a superb collection of books and magazines about architecture, but there is also much more beside. The collected best works of architecture students from the last 100 years (the School of Architecture recently celebrated it’s centenary) festoon the walls and the top of the bookshelves – models galore, drawings and sketches on the walls, the very best of the best. There are original drawings by Gummer, models of the Auckland cathedral by Doc Toy, fragments of carved Egyptian sarcophagi by a generation of John Dickson’s invigorated students, the Hagia Sophia, a vast poster of the Acropolis, houses by classicists, modernists, post-modernists, and anarchists. It truly is a wonderful place in which to study architecture, to learn about buildings, to understand structures and movements and patterns of time in the history of architecture.
Why do I rave on so? Because the current Vice Chancellor of the University of Auckland, Stuart McCutcheon, is proposing to destroy it. To remove it, in its entirety, from the Auckland campus. Oh sure, the books, or at least some of them, would make their way across to the main Library, to be shoe-horned into the main building, but the Library would be destroyed as an entity and a source of knowledge. Instead of having the learning facility at the heart of the School, right there where everyone can see it and use it, the removal of the Library would spell a certain end to the autonomy of the School as a learning citadel in its own space. In theory it would force students across Symonds Street and down a full block into the heart of the main campus, in order to study or find that special book. In practice, the books would become unread. It is hard enough to convince students to leave their desks and computers and walk downstairs to read a book (why bother when google exists at your fingertips?) so the prospect of more than one or two students a day making it down into the main campus is low to non-existent.
Books that are unread become detritus that is dumped. Every year the Wellington City Library has a purge of volumes that have sat unread for too long, where they are turfed out the door for a sale price of a dollar or fifty cents. Or free. Or else they are taken, unceremoniously to the dump. A Library unused is a sad thing – a source of knowledge, abandoned. In Auckland, the proposal is to remove the entire Library.
So why is this happening? The answer, as always, is McCutcheon. He is the highly-paid hatchet-man extraordinaire, currently at Auckland but he has made his mark at other Universities around New Zealand, leaving a tale of destruction wherever he goes. You hire McCutcheon when you want to make cuts, make savings, and generally shake up the system. Perhaps University Councils think that they can hire him and have him tamely restructure departments without upsetting the furniture, but that vision never really happens. McCutcheon is the attack dog and that means he has a license to terminate and destroy things. What he plans to do here, is to “close the library”.

“Another 45 jobs being cut at Auckland University are “just the tip of the iceberg” to come, the Tertiary Education Union says.
Union organiser Enzo Giordani says the university has proposed cutting staff in its libraries and learning services by 45 over the next few years, closing branch libraries in the music, fine arts and architecture schools and at its Tāmaki and Epsom campuses.”

“Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon warned last October that the university faced a deficit of $11.8 million which would have to be met partly by cutting staff numbers.
He said then that the university could not let academic staff/student ratios worsen because that would affect teaching quality and university rankings, which are crucial to attracting international students.
“That only leaves professional staff such as administrative services and student support services,” he said.
He said the tight budget could also force cuts in academic staff in fields where student numbers are declining, such as arts and education, although there could be staff increases in expanding courses such as engineering.”

Some of us would argue that this route of action is a bad route to take. The wrong path. Universities are run by the admin staff (oddly called professional staff here, when they are neither a profession nor full of professors, but we’ll let that slide), and it is the admins and the managers who are really in charge and run the place. The academic staff are focused on teaching – and researching – but generally detest the admin side of their job and are bad at it, according to friends of mine in academia. So, cutting the admin staff actually results in general chaos and destruction all over, as positions are disestablished and new, less-well-paid positions are proposed.

“A further 30 or so roles would go when the Tāmaki and Epsom campuses close over the next few years, centralising all services in the main library in Princes St plus two remaining specialist libraries for law and medicine.
As well as librarians, he said the proposal would cut some roles in learning services which support Māori and Pacific students, students with learning disabilities and students with English as a second language.”


It is a deliberate tactic by McCutcheon. You have to fight to survive in the modern world, and so he sets people at each others throats. Here he sets admin staff against the academics and Fine Arts librarians against Architecture librarians, Professors of Violins against Professors of Cello, Epsom proponents against Symonds St proponents, Tamaki supporters against Grafton supporters. Quiet, non-vocal positions such as Library staff will need to fight for their very lives to survive the cuts, but who is going to fight for the very buildings and spaces themselves?
Cutting the Library in order to save money on salaries for staff is bad enough, but axing the Library itself is just cultural vandalism on a grand Trumpian scale of idiocy and stupidity, as well as a cultural calamity both for the Auckland Architecture School, the NZ Architecture scene in general, the Historic info tied up in the Archive, and of course, most of all, for the education of the students in Auckland. Consultation on the proposal closes on April 30th. Please help fight this battle.

Paging the letter writers… – M28 A31
3 - 04 - 18

[…] to the Herald (linked in this blog post), this will be a cut of 114/245 jobs in the library and learning services organisation at the […]

Alex Elzenaar
3 - 04 - 18

Could you make it clearer how we can submit to this consultation? Thanks for highlighting this travesty.

-A UoA student

3 - 04 - 18

Good question. I’ll find out and get back to you ASAP.

4 - 04 - 18

Actually it would probably be easier for Alex herself / himself to find out, by simply going over to the Library, as I’m sure the staff there will know aaaaaaaaalllll about the proposal, and will gladly help you tell McCutcheon where to stick it.

4 - 04 - 18

Levi if you do have info on how to input to the consultation that would be great. There’ll be many of us who will want to I’m sure.

4 - 04 - 18

Auckland University’s Review and Restructure Policy is at, and I suspect that the consultation referred to by Levi etc will be restricted to those people whose positions are affected, as is the norm in organisational restructures.

And it’s not just architects who are in the gun: according to musicians are for the chop, being subsidised by architecture!

5 - 04 - 18

The library is a vital resource for planners – it is the largest storehouse of planning knowledge and theory in NZ, with access to material that isn’t available online, or is difficult to access. The library was an important part of my education, and I still use it when I go back to Auckland – a great pity if it were to go.

5 - 04 - 18

Thanks to previous librarians like Jane Wild, the Auckland Architecture School library is one of the biggest players in attempts to compensate for the lack of a national architecture archive. It’s hard to see how that function could survive this.

Previous attempts to turn back the accountants’ assaults on “inefficient” educational and cultural establishments suggest that it’s only a matter of time until they get their way here. The question is, how can the profession work together to achieve proper preservation of its own history?

5 - 04 - 18

I’ve been unable to find the proposal publicly available online – perhaps it is an internal Auckland Uni thing only. Certainly nothing announced publicly on McCutcheon’s page on the Uni website.

But I don’t think that should stop anyone outside the University from commenting. As Sean and Starkive note above, the Auckland School Library and Archive are important, national players, and must not be lost. The Head of School is Dr Julia Gatley, whom I am sure is not going to be supportive of the scheme, but is probably hamstrung by her position. I’d encourage you to email her, call her, beseech her not to let this happen. I’m sure she will pass on any submissions on the proposal to the relevant people.

5 - 04 - 18

The response from Dr Gatley is as follows:

“There is a consultation process underway with staff at present. If the decision is made to close the Architecture branch library, the resources will be moved to the General Library, where they will remain accessible, including the materials currently housed in the Architecture Archive. The current Architecture library building is going to be demolished. “

5 - 04 - 18

Thanks Starkive – that’s a suitably anodyne comment from someone in Dr Gatley’s position. Interesting that the building is proposed to be demolished – if Dr Gatley would like to send us further comments or further information on what might be going to replace it, that would be greatly appreciated.

But I still say: its a bloody travesty, a total shame, and should be fought fiercely. I think that if I look back at the time I was learning about Architecture at Fish Central School, the number of times I left the Arch Campus to visit the main campus would have been in the order of once or twice a month, if that many. Maybe less. The amount of times I visited the Main Library would have been once, in the entire time I was at Uni – horrible atmosphere, not at all welcoming, and full of spotty B Com students. Avoid like the plague.

The Auckland Architecture Library, by comparison, is a paragon of delight. An earthly paradise, calming, pleasant, informative, stimulating, and full of books, posters, models, magazines, more books, cool chairs (you can even sit in an original Corbusier chaise longue), and shafts of sunlight and fresh air. Its a superb building. Demolish McCutcheon, not the Library.

Paul Litterick
6 - 04 - 18

Do not expect any help from Julia Gatley, the Head of School. She will do what Diane Brand, the Dean, wants. The Dean will do what Stuart McCutcheon, the VC, wants. Any resistance to HoS, the Dean, or the VC will be met with the usual bullying.

Do not expect help from the Library Manager, Kirsty Wilson (who replaced the Librarian, Wendy Garvey). She does not read books, and has no interest in architecture. She has already thrown out many of the Library’s best books, because they were old and in the way.

Do not expect to be allowed to contribute to the consultation. It is for HR purposes, a necessary exercise to avoid employment law.

Maybe the AAA or the NZIA could do something, although I doubt it.

Sylvia Smith
6 - 04 - 18

This doesn’t bode well for budding librarians who want to work in Auckland after Auckland Libraries had to cut $1.8 million from their budget. Nearly a third of the staff have gone from 52 libraries. Mainly senior staff with more positions opened for junior staff at obviously lesser salary rates. The work to do is the same just less people to do it. I feel sorry for the staff that are working there. It was a very stressful time at Auckland Libraries while this was happening and staff are unsure as to the stability of their current positions for the future.

6 - 04 - 18

Thanks Paul, and Sylvia. Both hugely informative comments. But with us here at the Fish, we think that if a battle is worth fighting, it is worth fighting on to the bitter end and not giving way a single inch. To me, in this non-Auckland focused blog, the prospect of closing down the Architecture Library and demolishing the building and decanting the contents, would pretty much end the School as well. I certainly would not recommend any students to go there as a place of learning if they exhibit such wanton destruction.

There are of course alternatives: Unitec, AUT (almost, sort of), both in Auckland, Victoria (and Massey, sort of?) in Wellington, ARA (formerly CPIT)in Christchurch, and even Otago Polytech down Deep South. For Chrisake, even Stewart Island’s DOC huts could probably run a better course than Auckland, as at least they have the odd book floating around. If I was a student of Auckland, I’d be very loud and vocal and telling the University to stick this proposal… very firmly.

But of course, I could be wrong. I have been wrong at least once before (back in 1972…?) so it can happen. It could be that modern students these days think they can do fine without books, and they can just find the answers on Google or by reading a FaceBook. Personally, I’d say they are wrong. Or am I wrong? Are books still relevant? Is the atmosphere of the place where you read books still relevant? Are models, drawings, diagrams, sections, and actual built examples of quality architecture still relevant? I dunno. You tell me.

6 - 04 - 18

And we’ve made the Bulletin of the NZIA, which notes Dr Gatley’s comment above, and goes on to say:

“The issue has attracted the attention of the Wellington blog Eye of the Fish, which makes no pretence of objectivity in its report. A tricky matter for the School, and the University, involving possible redundancies and erosion of specialist subject knowledge, the loss of a familiar and fondly-remembered amenity, the changing nature of education and study habits, inter-generational differences towards the object known as the book, and the spatial requirements of a contemporary teaching institution, all to be considered in the rather hyper-ventilated atmosphere of the academy.”

Kaaren Hirst
6 - 04 - 18

I worked in this library for a number of years in the 1980s and in those days the stock was renowned as the best in the southern hemisphere. We also had a number of bequests that enabled us to purchase resources even when money was tight. I wonder if any of that money is still around, and if it is what the terms of endowment were?

6 - 04 - 18

Who wants to slap a heritage listing on perhaps one of the most coherent new brutalist campuses in New Zealand. I reckon the AU Arch School is a purer example of new brutalism than Wellington Teacher’s College, for example, also up for the demolition ball in due course.

6 - 04 - 18

PS – I’ll admit having no particular attachment to the place and don’t really care where the material is kept – as long as it IS kept. All too often centralisation also involves a certain amount of rationalisation – and that rationalisation is never rational in its determination of the value of historically collected material.

6 - 04 - 18

but m-d – it is not just the keeping of the material, as the looking at it. The current Auckland University Main Library Building was full to bursting back in the 1980s, let alone now – and let alone with several new Library’s contents stuffed in there as well.

Paul Litterick
6 - 04 - 18

Oh, Captain, my Captain! I will stand beside you in this noble yet doomed endeavour. There is nothing like the almost certain prospect of defeat to rally the troops.

What must be understood is that the Architecture and Planning library is not part of the School of Architecture and Planning. That would be too easy. It is part of the NICAI cluster of libraries, with the libraries of Music and Fine Arts. All three are managed by Kirsty Wilson, who describes herself as a manager, not a librarian. All three are doomed.

Expertise has already left the architecture library. The people who knew about the subject have gone, all but the archivist, Sarah Cox. The collections will suffer, as will the service. The managers won’t have people who know that Corb means Le Corbusier, and books about him are shelved at J for Jeanneret. But they don’t care. The managers are post-book.

But then, so are the architects. The School has become increasingly post-literate. Many of the teaching staff do not read and they don’t encourage their students to do so. It is only the compulsory history and theory course that forces students into the library. The irony is that H+T is Julia Gatley’s subject.

But still, there are students who use the library’s assets, and architectural education will be poorer for the library’s passing. The other irony is that the library is the point of difference that the Auckland school has over its competitors. I would happily have run away to Vic or Canterbury to finish my PhD, but I was chained to the library in Auckland.

But at least I now have a library of my own, collected from the piles of books Kirsty Wilson had thrown out. My collection includes three first editions of Heavenly Mansions, and the crucial 1905 edition of Banister Fletcher. Their loss, my gain.

6 - 04 - 18

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (well, a lecture theatre at Victoria University) I delivered a paper to some kind of libraries and archives conference. The details are dim now and were probably not much sharper at the time. However, I do remember the gist, which was that if the architecture profession wanted to have a safe repository for its heritage it would have to do as other fields of cultural endeavour had done – DIY.

As I recall the model under discussion was the archiving of New Zealand film. The subsequent discussion about architecture archiving rather broke down over questions of which existing, non-specialist library or archive should be doing it and/or how to get central government to front a big wedge of funding. Needless to say neither of those fanciful prospects have ever eventuated. My viewpoint has only become more determined with the passage of time – just do it.

Peter White
6 - 04 - 18

Here’s one from way out. I and my family have lived in two of the Auckland early postmodernist architects’ homes since 1975, the second, for the past ten years, designed by the late Claude Megson. It’s one of the Cocker houses in Wood Street, Freemans Bay. In order to be able to honour its concept and originality, I asked a leading architect how I might obtain the drawings for it and I was directed to this library. I think he’d arranged for much of Claude’s work to be stored there. Showing commendable interest in her work, the librarian brought out the folios and I obtained what I wanted.

My point is that I live in a city that right now faces the prospect of becoming ‘great’, in a world heaving with the pain of finding itself too small for the human development that now besieges it. It isn’t a city in decline; it’s a city crying out for full realisation of all of the significant aspects there are of humanity and human habitation. In this blog, you have been describing a truly devastating intention to destroy what is actually most needed. This ‘hatchet man’ must be stood up to. The question is, do Aucklander’s care at all? Or does m-d’s not caring about “where the material is kept” actually typify Auckland attitudes — and constitute a complete failure to grasp the issue?

Thank you, Wellingtonian Leviathan, for your bigger picture prompting.

7 - 04 - 18

starkive – a national architecture archive is a great idea. With exhibitions, outreach, and event programmes such institutions have more public amenity/accessibility than university libraries – which tend to be used only by professionals and academics (and especially alumni). The ‘profession’ laments lack of public engagement with the idea of architecture – well, this could help. The NZIA could indeed get behind this if it were an institute of architecture (rather than architects)

I suspect the Auckland Architecture Library would be too small, and who wouldn’t want to see a brand new venture of some significance designed to host this. An national competition would be an appropriate gesture – where the building becomes part of the collection.

8 - 04 - 18

Thank you for the affirmation m-d – and please don’t think me churlish – but your response is uncannily like those of those archivists 20 or so years ago and perhaps an illustration of why nothing substantive has happened in the meantime.

The lesson I was trying to pass on from the film industry was that their archive began without any resources – no money, no staff, no competition-winning building. Predicating the founding of a new institution on those elements will almost certainly lead nowhere. If on the other hand a few people, perhaps just one, declare that the venture now exists and simply get on with it, the case for resources can follow. If the need is real its existence will create demand, demand will fuel growth and a virtuous circle can develop.

Not so much a case of build it and they will come as start them coming and it will get built.

9 - 04 - 18

It beats me why they hire someone like McCutcheon. He was hated with a vengeance when he was here at Massey, and from what I understand, they really did not like him at Victoria either. He’s just a cultural vandal. There’s a poem about him (with apologies to Shelley):

“And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is McCutcheon, Pro Vice Chancellor;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Destroyer of worlds.

Jane Davidson-Ladd
11 - 04 - 18

All of the relevant documents are now available online:

Official consultation is only for staff affected, but I think it is worth as many people as possible outlining their concerns to the review committee.